On being conned
I’ve been waving Rena Fraden's Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated Women @ y’all for a couple of weeks now, and thought I’d take the time to write out a little of what I find so compelling about the book. It is really making me feel dissatisfied with the sort of writing we are getting, and making me be more thoughtful about ways in which we might help folks dig deeper, be more truthful.
If you don’t know the story of Medea, read about it here—it’s all about betrayal, abandonment, anger, “too much love.”
“Jones finds theatrical ways to interrogate the personal, surrounding the contemporary with the mythical, providing more texts, and thus context, for these women, so that each individual’s story is not isolated but always seen in relation to others…autobiography alone neither guarantees new insights nor changes behavior. As Joan Scott has argued, experience is not transparent but is ‘at once always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted’ (p. 21).
Reading this is both inspiring me, and making me increasingly impatient with the clichéd stories we are getting, the blatant untruths of (as in this week's writing), "I am a grandmother of two...We do the baking cookies, play games and go to the park when we can. I expect to be there any time my children want and/or need me as they have been for me." We've gotten lots of this kind of stories, written as if the women are on the outside, living with their families. BUT THEY ARE NOT.
“Jones had met a woman in jail who had killed her baby because her husband wanted the baby but not her. But when Jones handed out...Medea…nobody was reading it….And yet she felt certain that the story should mean something to the women. One day one woman who was usually in the workshop was in lock up for disruptive behavior because she had found out that the father of her kids was in jail and the kids were going to be put in foster care....'What’s up y’all? What the fuck’s going on? What is it that makes us leave our children?…What are the ways we kill our children?....You’re not with your kids...Your baby is somewhere right now dying of a broken heart. That’s real, you know. Children miss their mamas….How are you different from Medea? At least she put her children out of their misery….She took ‘em out…And it was an act of love. Something like the slave mother who bashes her children’s brains out so they wouldn’t be sold. There’s something liberating about a woman saying, ‘This I can do’....if she couldn’t be with them, maybe it was better that they were not left alone in the world amongst their enemies….’” (pp. 43-44).
"Jones knew that Medea’s story was relevant…She knew that the ambiguous qualities of the heroine and the choices before her were subjects that these women were uniquely qualified to address. How could a woman kill her children? How could a woman not be with her children?...Medea is full of rage, and so are the women in jail. Like Medea, these women are seen by society as outsiders, barbarians….They are women who are ruled by their passions, who are self-destructive, and who destroy others…And, like Medea, many of the women are master storytellers. Storytelling can be a con game, a trick used against one’s foes. It can also be the beginning of a different drama—a way to imagine, if not live out, a new life" (p. 48).
Are we being conned? Inviting conning? In inviting life writing but not ever interrogating it?
Not questioning or calling out the inconsistencies, the things that don't make sense?
“The pedagogical thrust of the Medea Project is aimed at uncovering the connections between an individual and the system of power. Jones and Reynolds believe that critical literacy—understanding social context, moving with others and not alone--will transform the oppressed and apathetic into people who believe that they can think and thus act for themselves and also for others….the best work is harrowing, but its most important effects are always delayed; one breaks up the ground the best one can and hopes that the crops will grow” (p. 70).
“It isn’t easy to count on anyone. There’s a lot to learn, and high expectations. The women are expected to voice opinions and do things, and most of the women aren’t used to doing either…Women are paying attention to them, focusing interest, having expectations, and many have never had this combination of discipline and mothering” (p. 79).
“It was a real challenge to have a conversation about race in jail…it was like opening up Pandora’s box—all sorts of evil things began to creep out…she started the workshop by asking the women two questions: what was their first memory of race; and, if they could take a pill and change their race, their gender, their entire being, what would they choose to become” (p. 6).
Now there’s a question that might get things hopping!